Recently returned from Iraq, Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) is ordered to see out the remaining three months of his commission within the Army’s Casualty Notification Unit. Learning the stringent protocol for the grim task of informing next of kin their loved ones have been killed in action from eccentric hardcase Captain Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson), Montgomery is profoundly affected by the people they visit and his new commanding officer.
Although ostensibly tackling the effect of war on those left at home, The Messenger has a much broader emotional resonance. Oren Moverman, debut director and veteran of the Israeli Army, has created a meditative, stark study of loss, grief and guilt, but also imbued it with great warmth and humour. His restrained direction provokes an eerily voyeuristic experience and allows his outstanding cast space to shine; though the excellent Harrelson received Oscar recognition, it is Foster’s subtle, anguished performance as the troubled Montgomery that provides the piece with a hefty anchor. Intimate, powerful filmmaking. [Chris Fyvie]